Sunday, November 30, 2008

Border crossings shift back to California routes

San Jose Mercury News
November 28, 2008

TIJUANA, Mexico—In a flash the two men were over the double fence and into the San Diego parking lot.

As a waiting pickup truck sped them away, the smuggler who boosted them over the 15-foot walls scrambled toward Mexico.

Border Patrol agents could only tag Juan Garcia's black sweatshirt with pepper spray bullets as he escaped back over the wall to Tijuana, red-eyed and coughing but $30 richer for a few seconds of daring labor.

It's just another night along the most heavily guarded stretch of U.S.-Mexico frontier, where Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal crossers have increased 28 percent since 2005—even as apprehensions have dropped nearly 40 percent border-wide over the same period. While illegal crossings are impossible to count, experts look to Border Patrol apprehensions as the best indicator of migrant traffic.

The Tijuana area's surprising increase is a booming business for cut-rate daredevils like Garcia, who are willing to try almost anything to get their clients across.

"I'll get you a bicycle, and I'll throw you over the fence with the bike," said part-time smuggler Giovanni Lopez, 28, after watching Garcia climb over. "But I'll also get you a little helmet and everything, so the Border Patrol thinks you're...what's the word in English? Exercising.

"And I cross over with you until a certain point, and I come back like this," he said, brushing away his tracks with an imaginary tree branch.

The Border Patrol's San Diego Sector—which covers 60 miles of border from the Pacific Ocean through strip malls and shanty towns into a boulder-strewn desert—is no stranger to such cat-and-mouse games. But its recent growth in traffic is driven by a curious convergence of strategies by both immigrants and the U.S. officials who chase them.

Analysts say the migrants encountering ever-increasing enforcement in the Arizona desert are bouncing back to California's traditional smuggling corridors, which offer shorter, cooler treks to cities and highways. The Border Patrol, meanwhile, takes migrants caught in Arizona to San Diego for deportation, hoping to break their ties to desert smugglers and daring them to try again against the border's toughest fences and highest concentration of agents.

"We're getting the right mix of personnel, technology and infrastructure there in San Diego, which allows us to take on that kind of surge," said Border Patrol spokesman Jason Ciliberti.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also is adding a growing number of deportees from the country's interior to the Tijuana corridor, where they quickly try to return to the lives they left up north. ICE removed a record 349,000 illegal immigrants in 2008, a 21 percent increase over last year and a 77 percent jump since 2005.

It's impossible to divine the split in Tijuana-area traffic among new arrivals choosing California over Arizona, apprehended migrants transferred between the two and deported illegal residents now trying to get back.

The Border Patrol declined to release numbers of migrant detainees moved from Arizona to Tijuana since it started relocating them in May, and ICE does not release its deportation statistics by repatriation point.

But other indicators are much clearer. In Arizona, increased enforcement and Operation Streamline—which slaps illegal crossers with criminal charges and possible jail time—have proven to be a sharp deterrent in the Border Patrol's Tucson and Yuma Sectors.

Yuma has seen apprehensions drop from 118,000 in 2006 to only 8,000 in 2008. Tucson apprehensions have fallen 20 percent in the same period.

Whatever the balance among factors, their combined effect is clear: San Diego Sector agents apprehended 162,000 illegal immigrants in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, up from 127,000 in 2005. Border-wide, the 723,000 apprehensions this year were down sharply from 1.2 million in 2005.

Statistics from Mexico's National Migration Institute show Tijuana has received more than 40 percent of all Mexicans deported from the U.S. this year, or 50,000 more displaced migrants on its streets than last year. Indeed, the San Diego Sector traffic remains far below its peak of more than 500,000 apprehensions in 1993, the year before the U.S. launched Operation Gatekeeper, which erected fences to stop crowds from rushing across the open border nearly every night.

The current surge "is a function of the most flagrant problems having been addressed in San Diego first," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies which advocates stricter immigration control. "Once the migration flow moved to Arizona, then enforcement efforts moved to Arizona, and some aliens and smugglers thought they would try their luck back in San Diego."

The weekend cyclist ruse is only one method. Throughout Tijuana, spotters watch the Border Patrol's movements day and night, coordinating runs northward by walkie-talkie cell phones.

Smugglers have even tried to take advantage of a $57 million project to extend double fencing between San Diego and Tijuana: Agents recently found 49 migrants packed inside the tank of a water truck stolen right off a Border Patrol construction site.

Others try to cross by water. San Diego immigration authorities have stopped 33 boats smuggling migrants or drugs north to area beaches in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, up from 10 in 2007.

But most Tijuana-area crossers still head into the deserts east of town. Near the sleepy border city of Tecate, crossing points are marked by piles of shredded blankets migrants cut into improvised moccasins to cover their tracks.

Santiago Rivera, 27, has been deported to Tijuana twice since May after serving a 25-month sentence for dealing heroin. He's lived most of his life in Los Angeles and said he no longer knows any relatives in his home state of Michoacan.

His pockets empty, he recently headed to Tecate to try crossing again.

"My sister lives in Beverly Hills. She goes to UCLA," Rivera said as he sat on a hot sidewalk waiting for a small migrant shelter to open for the night. "My mother is a cosmetologist and a nurse. She lives in Culver City. My girlfriend lives in Granada Hills, and she's manager of a restaurant. She's born over there. My daughter's born over there.

"What do I have here?" he continued. "Look at me. You think this is life?"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Appraisers scarce for border fence landowners

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
November 29, 2008

McALLEN, Texas — As Rio Grande Valley property owners gird for hearings that will determine how much the government pays for the land it takes to build the border fence, some are struggling to find a key witness — an appraiser.

The limited supply of qualified appraisers for this sort of work in the Valley, the cost of importing an appraiser from elsewhere and the fact that the government grabbed the Valley's premier appraisal firm for its side could ultimately lead to fewer landowners holding out for a trial, said lawyers involved with the cases.

"I don't think there are enough appraisers and a lot don't want to get involved," said lawyer Albert Villegas, who is representing several properties. Some appraisers Villegas approached were uneasy about determining the impact of a yet-to-be-built 18-foot fence on property value and others still hoped to get a piece of the government work, he said.

"They've pretty much negated everyone else," Villegas said. He was talking to appraisers in San Antonio and Houston.

But pulling in appraisers from outside the Valley to prepare a report and potentially testify if the case goes to trial becomes cost prohibitive for many owners.

Villegas has received quotes more than $10,000 for the work. For small landowners "that's a prohibitive amount," he said.

The Justice Department expects about 270 condemnation lawsuits against Valley landowners. Most have settled, but federal lawyers say about 80 holdouts could carry their cases all the way to trial. Trials are scheduled to begin in March and April, but the government can begin construction beforehand.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is trying to complete 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It will not meet its end-of-year deadline, but has promised to have all sections under contract by then.

Some landowners in the Rio Grande Valley, where the project has been delayed by litigation, hope that a new administration will rethink the controversial project. Earlier this month Customs and Border Protection announced it was putting off three fence sections totaling about 14 miles in the Valley to further study their impact on Rio Grande floodwaters.

Richard Schell, another attorney representing border fence property owners, said he usually turned to the firm of Robinson, Duffy & Barnard LLP in Harlingen for appraisals involving litigation, but the government had them sewn up. So far the firm has been included on the government's witness list in only one case in Cameron County. No one from the firm returned calls for comment.

If appraisal work for these cases costs more than $10,000, Schell said one client would have to forego the outside expert and testify to the value himself.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen extended the deadline for naming experts by a month for a group of cases, including those handled by Villegas and Schell. They are scheduled to go to trial in March if Hanen opts for jury trials rather than a court-appointed land commission to determine compensation.

Bud Campana, a Brownsville appraiser not handling any border fence cases, said he was approached by a landowner this summer but was not comfortable with the job.

"The problem with these appraisals is it's a unique circumstance," Campana said. A big part of an appraisal is comparing the property to the sales of similarly affected pieces of land. But there is still nothing to compare the fence to, he said.

Some of the properties are further complicated by issues involving hunting leases, access to the Rio Grande and the value of land accessible — but in a more limited fashion — on the Mexican side of the fence.

"Based on what I've seen and generally heard I think it's a shame the way some property owners have been run over and treated," Campana said.

Not everyone is having problems though.

Norton Colvin, who is representing six properties in Cameron County, said the appraisals on his clients' land are nearly finished. He used an appraiser from Austin.

John Malcolm, president of Professional Appraisal Services in McAllen, said his firm will do appraisals for some landowners and possibly the government, too.

"I don't think there's a particular conflict in doing work for both the government or an individual property owners," Malcolm said. His appraisers would do the same job either way. "It doesn't matter who the client is."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Border gulch fill-in faces the wet test

San Diego Union-Tribune
November 27, 2008

Three months after border fence construction began in a coastal canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch, crews have all but filled in the once-deep breach.

Since mid-August, contractors have cut more than 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt from surrounding hills and deposited it into the canyon, creating a 140-foot-tall earthen berm that vehicles can now drive across.

While the fence has yet to be built, Border Patrol officials estimate the controversial fill-in is about a week from completion.

The project was for years contested by environmentalists who feared sediment runoff could damage the Tijuana River estuary, a claim countered by federal officials who promised to re-seed and stabilize the site to prevent erosion.

Now, with start of the winter rains this week and more rain expected, observers on both sides will get to see how well the massive project holds up.

“This is the first test,” said Oscar Romo, a professor of urban studies and planning at the University of California San Diego who is tracking environmental impacts of the construction on both sides of the border.

While there has been some seeding and other erosion-control measures at the top of the canyon, the sides of the berm have yet to be replanted with vegetation that can slow runoff.

The fence project, which the fill-in is part of, is not due to be completed until May.

Romo, who spent yesterday afternoon checking the site and a nearby sediment channel for erosion following the previous night's rainstorm, isn't optimistic.

“I saw what I had expected to see,” he said. “Everywhere you look at the berm, there is erosion going on.”

Romo said future rainfall could create enough runoff to reach the estuary unless steps are taken to halt erosion.

On Tuesday, before the rain began, Border Patrol special operations supervisor Jim Swanson stood at the edge of the canyon and pointed out nearby coastal sage scrub and other native plants that will eventually be replanted at the site.

“The people opposed to this don't like to hear this, but it's actually adding acreage of coastal vegetation,” he said.

A planned freeway-style retaining wall will also help, he said. By the time it is finished, the berm will be 150 feet tall and made from about 1.7 million cubic yards of earth.

Swanson, a 22-year veteran of the agency in San Diego, said Smuggler's Gulch has been a particularly dangerous place to patrol, especially in fog, with narrow dirt roads clinging to the sides of the canyon. An agent was killed in a rollover accident there in 2002.

Once the new fence is in, paved roads on either side will allow agents to zip across in seconds.
“This area needed something like this,” Swanson said.

The Smuggler's Gulch fence project is part of a federal plan dating to the mid-1990s that calls for 14 miles of contiguous secondary fencing running inland from the ocean.

The federal government is spending $60 million to complete approximately 3½ miles of secondary fencing that had yet to be built across the canyon, in Border Field State Park and in surrounding areas.

At a cost of $48.6 million, Smuggler's Gulch is by far the most expensive, and controversial, part of the project. Plans for the massive fill-in led to a February 2004 lawsuit against the federal government by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the San Diego Audubon Society.

That same month, the California Coastal Commission stalled construction after concluding it would cause environmental damage to the estuary, which had cost millions in state and federal tax dollars to restore.

The next year, however, Congress passed legislation that enabled the Department of Homeland Security to waive all laws standing in the way of building the fence. The environmental lawsuit was dismissed in December 2005.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Green' groups push for Coronado National Forest protections

Tucson Citizen
November 26, 2006

A partnership of environmental groups and other nonprofits is calling for a wider swath of wilderness and more emphasis on quiet recreation in the Coronado National Forest.
The Coronado Planning Partnership represents a combined membership of more than 300,000 people in 20 groups. The partnership issued a state-of-the-forest report Nov. 7 aimed at influencing the forest management plan, on which Coronado is taking public comment.

"We wanted to make sure we got a plan based in conservation," said David Hodges, policy director for the Sky Island Alliance, under whose name the partnership report was written.
The group was spurred to write the report by the planned revision of the Coronado management plan, which was last revised in 1986.

"There are a lot of new pressures on the forest that the agency has to take into account," Hodges said.

Population in Pima County has risen by 250,000, illegal immigration has become a destructive flood and global warming looms. None of those was a recognized threat two decades ago, he said.
To deal with the border, the partnership suggests strengthening interagency cooperation and preventing a border fence.

"A border wall would seriously disrupt the movement and availability of resources to a variety of species that are of conservation concern for the Coronado along with ecological systems that support those species," the report says.

The forest should prepare for global warming impacts, including changing habitat boundaries, invasive species and changes in species viability, the group said.

Hodges laments the shift toward using forests for recreation instead of conservation - a move he says leans away from the reason forests exist.

The groups' report calls for several new wilderness areas and "sound sheds" where only quiet activities are allowed. The group identified eight areas the forest should manage as more-restricted wilderness areas, Hodges said.

Despite receiving comments from more than 600 people, the partnership wants more. The group will take public comments on its draft report, with a final version out next spring, Hodges said.

No timeline has been announced for the Coronado management plan revision, though it is expected to take until next summer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Border Security Challenges Next Administration

National Public Radio
November 23, 2008

Weekend Edition Sunday, November 23, 2008 · Two years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to pass the Secure Fence Act. The law authorized nearly 700 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. It was part of a three-pronged strategy to beef up border security. Now as president-elect, Obama is set to turn over that strategy to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who knows the subject firsthand. If she is confirmed as head of the Department of Homeland Security, she will have to assess whether the strategy is working.

The U.S.-Mexico border just east of the twin cities of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Ariz., rattles with construction noise. It's part of the DHS plan to build more than 350 miles of fence along the border by the end of this year.

Add to that a couple hundred miles of vehicle barriers, thousands of new border patrol agents and a virtual fence — and you have the current strategy.

Current DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff says almost all the fence will be finished by the time the next secretary comes in. Napolitano was critical of the fence plan when it was proposed. "Build a 50-foot fence," she said, "and they'll find a 51-foot ladder." But Chertoff points to a drop in illegal crossings where it's been built — mostly near cities where the fence slows people who would otherwise blend quickly into the urban environment.

Critics of the strategy say the fence is a negative symbol for America, it cuts off wildlife corridors and it's expensive. The latest cost estimate weighs in at about $3 billion. No one is talking about tearing down the fence, but look for Congress to try to take away a controversial power it gave to the DHS secretary to build the fence in sensitive areas: the right to waive more than 30 environmental and land use laws. It's especially contentious now in South Texas where the remaining fence has not yet been built.

The second part of the strategy is the huge border patrol buildup — 18,000 agents by the end of this year. Even critics of border policy agree this part of the strategy is working. The U.S. Border Patrol expects to have another 2,000 agents by the end of January.

The last part of the strategy, though, is way behind schedule.

As DHS secretary, Napolitano would have to make a decision about the high-tech virtual fence, or SBINet. It's supposed to be a series of towers with radar, video and microwave links. The idea is for agents to quickly spot, track and catch smugglers. But a pilot project last year was so fraught with bugs that DHS forced its designer, Boeing, to forfeit some of its payment. Boeing's contract is up next fall. Meanwhile, Chertoff has ordered redesigned towers.

No one knows how much the virtual fence will cost, because no one knows exactly where it will go or how well it will work. In the long-run, though, Napolitano says border security strategy will be far more effective if there's immigration and visa reform.

"You've got to have the comprehensive immigration reform," she told Phoenix public radio station KJZZ. "You can't just stop with ground sensors and fences. You've got to have more to deal with the labor issues that underlie this migration."

Both Democrats and Republicans said they would deal with those issues once the border was secure. But the economic downturn may be taking away pressure to deal with the issue. The Mexican government reported this week that the number of people leaving the country dropped by 42 percent over the last two years.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Elected officials ask Obama to stop border fence construction in San Diego

Rio Grande Guardian
November 21, 2008

SAN DIEGO, November 21 - Nine elected officials from California, including two members of Congress, have written to President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that border wall construction at Friendship Park, San Diego, be stopped.

The letter has been sent to John Podesta, co-chair of Obama’s presidential transition team and a former chief of staff to President Clinton.

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Susan Davis and Bob Filner, California state Senators Denise Ducheny and Christine Kehoe, California state Assembly members Mary Salas and Lori Saldana, and San Diego City Council members Donna Frye and Ben Hueso.

The letter points out that the Department of Homeland Security has halted plans to build a border fence in parts of South Texas (in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos). The authors of the letter ask for similar treatment for Friendship Park, which they describe as a place of "great historic and cultural significance to the people of the U.S.-Mexico border region."

The letter, dated Nov. 14, 2008, was written on Congresswoman Davis's letterhead.

Here is the letter in full:

Dear Mr. Podesta,

We appreciate this opportunity to share with you a single and simple recommendation for the 2008 presidential transition. Unlike some requests that may be submitted for your consideration, this one would require immediate action in order to have the desired effect.

We are asking your transition team to intervene to save "Friendship Park" - a place of great historic and cultural significance to the people of the U.S. - Mexico border region. By seeing to it that the Department of Homeland Security halts construction of supplemental border fencing near Friendship Park, the transition team can make a powerful and symbolic gesture of bi-national goodwill that will be hailed by people on both sides of the border.

"Friendship Park" is a half-acre plaza overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the southwest-most corner of the continental Unites States. The plaza sits atop Monument Mesa, a six-acre mesa within the bounds of California's 800-acre Border Field State Park.

At the center of Friendship Park stands a monument marking the first meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Commission in 1848. For generations residents of the United States have gathered around this monument to visit through the border fence with family and friends in Tijuana, Mexico. When Border Field State Park was formally inaugurated as a California State Park in 1971, then-First Lady Patricia Nixon presided over a bi-national dedication ceremony at the monument.. Clearly the idea of the monument as an international meeting place lies at the very heart of the park's design.

On April 1, 2008, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff waived dozens of environmental and other regulations to expedite construction of 670 miles of supplemental fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Operating under the Chertoff waivers, DHS contractors are now beginning construction of a second security wall across the heart of Monument Mesa. This wall will eliminate routine public access to Friendship Park - this despite the fact that illegal border crossings and drug smuggling at Friendship Park are well controlled by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) thorough the current practice of monitoring the area through visual observation and advanced surveillance technology.

As is the case with other construction projects along the length of the border, DHS intends to erect the new barriers atop Monument Mesa by year-end 2008. For this reason immediate intervention is required to save Friendship Park. We are encouraged by the recent announcement that CBP has decided no to move forward this year on the construction of three proposed border fence segments in Texas. We feel this cherished part of the California landscape should receive similar consideration.

The plan to eliminate public access to Friendship Park has become for the peoples of the U.S.-Mexico border region a tragic symbol of the "enforcement only" approach to U.S. - Mexico border policy. For two examples of the widespread news coverage which the case of Friendship Park has been receiving, please see the attached stories from the New York Times (10/22/08) and from the Christian Century magazine (10/7/08). Coverage in the Mexican press has been even more extensive, communicating the dismay of the Mexican people that the U.S. government would eliminate routine public access to this historical gathering place.

Direction to DHS contractors halting all border fence construction on Monument Mesa would send a powerful message to the peoples of the U.S. - Mexico border region. It would also give a new staff at DHS time to solicit new proposals for the re-design of security measures that will ensure continued public access to Friendship Park.

Were such directions given by President Bush, it could be celebrated as a noble gesture reaffirming his lifelong commitment to good relations between the peoples of Mexico and the United States. Were such direction insisted upon by the Obama transition team, it would signal the incoming administration's understanding that our national security is enhanced, not diminished, by the promotion of friendship with the people of Mexico.

Should you have any questions about Friendship Park, please do not hesitate to contact us. With best wishes for a successful transition, we thank you for your time and consideration.


Susan Davis, Member of Congress
Bob Filner, Member of Congress
Denise Ducheny, California State Senator
Christine Kehoe, California State Senator
Mary Salas, California Assemblymember
Lori Saldana, California Assemblymember
Donna Frye, San Diego City Councilmember
Ben Hueso, San Diego City Councilmember
John Garamendi, Lt. Governor of the State of California

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Napolitano to lead DHS

Brownsville Herald
November 20, 2008

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has become a household name in the Rio Grande Valley during the last two years, a result of his prominent role in the implementation of border security policies in South Texas.

It's no wonder, then, that Valley leaders and activists are paying close attention to the appointment of Chertoff's replacement, a position that now looks to be filled by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

As the governor of a border state and an occasional critic of the border fence, Napolitano has already made a favorable impression on the critics of her predecessor.

"Following Secretary Chertoff's tenure, anyone that President Obama selects will be an improvement," said Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition. "Hopefully Governor Napolitano's experience in Arizona has shown her that the border wall is a complete disaster."

Since its inception in 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has quickly become the most visible Cabinet department on the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. Border Patrol, Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are all under the helm of DHS.

Napolitano's gubernatorial experience in Arizona will serve her well on border issues, many local leaders say, but there are still questions about how she'll approach issues specific to South Texas.

"She might be sensitive to the needs of the border, but it's a different situation here," said Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos. "In Arizona, they've got a chalk line for a border. We've got a river."

With 17 miles of border fencing still to be built in Cameron County, Napolitano's stance on the barrier could be tested early in her tenure. Though she's unlikely to unilaterally halt the fence's construction, border residents hope she will stress the department's willingness to consult with affected landowners and political entities.

"We would expect the next secretary of Homeland Security to sit down and consult with us in good faith," said Julie Hillrichs, spokeswoman for the Texas Border Coalition. "It would be a welcome change from the current administration."

Governor of Arizona Is in Line for Cabinet

New York Times
November 20, 2008

All along, while casting a skeptical eye on the border fence going up, calling for the National Guard to patrol the border, advocating for a guest worker program to reduce illegal immigration, promising more local law enforcement cooperation with Mexico, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona has repeated something like a mantra: Security and immigration are the federal government’s responsibility.

Now, it could be hers.

President-elect Barack Obama, transition officials said, is planning to choose Ms. Napolitano, a border-state governor who lives and breathes the often-heated immigration debate, to head the Homeland Security Department.

Ms. Napolitano, 51, a former state and federal prosecutor who was re-elected to a second term as governor in 2006, has pleased and peeved both the left and right in her nearly six years as a Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state whose border with Mexico is the country’s busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants.

“She has been in the eye of the storm on this issue and its intersection with border security,” said Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center at the American Immigration Law Foundation, a group that advocates for immigrants.

In private, Ms. Napolitano has been cordial with the man she would succeed, Michael Chertoff, but she has often been publicly critical of the Bush administration’s policies on border enforcement and illegal immigration.

While Mr. Chertoff has pushed hard to comply with a Congressional mandate to build nearly 700 miles of new fencing along the United States-Mexico border by the end of the year — even waiving some environmental laws to get it done — Ms. Napolitano has shown little enthusiasm for the project.

If you build a 50-foot-high wall, somebody will find a 51-foot ladder, she has often said in speeches and news conferences, while criticizing the Department of Homeland Security for persistent delays in deploying a “virtual fence” of cameras, sensors and other technology.
Last year, Ms. Napolitano reached a deal with Mr. Chertoff to make driver’s licenses more secure under a federal program known as REAL ID, but in June she signed a bill refusing to put the standards in place, calling the program an unfinanced federal mandate.

She was a vocal critic when Congress failed to pass legislation last year revamping immigration law and has also backed proposals favored by some immigrant advocacy groups, including a temporary worker program and “a strict and stringent pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants already here that would include learning English and paying fines.

But last year she also signed into law sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers and later complained when the Bush administration withdrew the bulk of the National Guard from the Mexican border earlier this year, as it had planned.

Also at home in Arizona, she has called raids by the sheriff in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, that have resulted in the deportation of scores of illegal immigrants “troublesome” and, much to the sheriff’s ire, withdrew state money that had financed some of his operations.
Doris Meissner, an immigration commissioner in the Clinton administration who is now a fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, said: “I think it signals that under the new administration that immigration is an important part of the homeland security portfolio. I think she brings a balanced view that is going to be very constructive.”

But some who take a hard-line approach to stopping illegal immigration called the selection of Ms. Napolitano a travesty, saying she is not deeply committed to enforcement and underplays the importance of physical fences.

“I am trying to find a 51-foot ladder for her,” said J. D. Hayworth, a former Republican congressman from Arizona who now hosts a radio talk show. “I don’t think very many illegal aliens would be running around with 51-foot ladders. She has been playing both sides and does not bring a seriousness of purpose to the issue.”

Other advocates of stricter immigration laws gave her qualified support.

“My first thought is that Obama could do a lot worse,” said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, a policy group in the Washington area, who went on to praise Ms. Napolitano’s law enforcement background while denouncing her support for a guest worker program as “amnesty.”

A Senate aide whose boss would be central in the confirmation process predicted that Ms. Napolitano’s confirmation would go smoothly and quickly, assuming no obstacles emerged from a background investigation.

“You can always raise, ‘What is her homeland security experience?’ ” said the aide, who spoke anonymously because his boss had not yet publicly addressed the potential nomination. “But you could raise that with anybody, including Michael Chertoff, before he took the post. And what the department really needs is a strong manager, a steady hand at the helm. Her record as attorney general and governor indicate she would be a strong leader for the department and a good manager.”

Homeland security, the third-largest cabinet department, is of course much more than border security. Among its units are the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As governor, Ms. Napolitano has not been tested by major natural disasters. But the few significant crises on her watch, mainly large forest fires and a prison hostage siege, she seemed to handle without much criticism.

Ms. Napolitano was serving as the state attorney general when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, and she swiftly called for background checks on students in flight schools and denounced the shooting death of a Sikh man near Phoenix a few days after the attacks in what prosecutors called a hate crime.

But most of her record relevant to domestic security has come as governor.

She has been an active participant in meetings of governors from both sides of the Mexican border and at the most recent one, in Los Angeles last summer, she announced more cross-border cooperation in tracking guns used in drug violence in Mexico.

Ms. Napolitano has not cut a high national profile, and her precise, wonkish manner of speech does not always lend itself to sound bites. But she reached one sort of milestone last week when she was parodied on “Saturday Night Live.”

The actor Paul Rudd, assuring that the Obama administration would allow for plenty of impersonations, asked the Napolitano knock-off what she would do about “border security legislation.”

“Let’s revamp it!” Kristen Wiig, a cast member impersonating Ms. Napolitano, cried out, saying nothing else and leaving the stage to laughter.

U.S.-MEXICO: Fence to Carve Up Fragile Border Preserve

Inter Press Service
November 19, 2008

SAN DIEGO, California, Nov 19 (IPS) - Another chapter in U.S.-Mexico border relations is about to close. In the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is completing construction of a 22-kilometre triple fence along the San Diego-Tijuana border.

It is being done over the objections of environmental activists living near the border, who are worried both about the toll on wildlife and those seeking entry into the United States.

A patch of green encircled by two cities, the Tijuana estuary lacks the grandeur of a mountain range but to biologists and conservationists it's an invaluable piece of real estate.

Created in 1981, the Tijuana River Research Reserve is an island of relative calm at the centre of a political maelstrom that pits conservations against advocates that promote tighter border controls. Nesting amid coastal sage and tall grass, 400 species of birds inhabit the wetlands. Thousands more birds return each year to one of the last vestiges of salt marsh existing in Southern California, where 90 percent have been lost to development.

"The estuary is one of the few remaining in Southern California without heavy human intrusion," said Mike McCoy, president of the South West Wetlands Interpretive Association.

However, the estuary has been part of contested territory for generations. The land was granted to the United States after the Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848, which ceded much of what is now southwest Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California to the United States in the aftermath of the U.S-Mexican War.

The estuary has also been labeled a haven for drug-running and illegal border crossings, according to border officials, making it a flash point for U.S. immigration policy and government agencies entrusted with protecting rare and endangered species living in the estuary. The nearby Otay Mesa border crossing is the most active border crossing in the world.

On average, more than 31 billion dollars worth of products cross through the checkpoint each day, nearly all of it related to the regional maquiladora/manufacturing and agricultural industries. Others seek entry through different methods. "The immigration problem is overblown," remarked a docent on a recent trip to the Tijuana River Research Reserve.

The border, however, does have a dark side. According to U.S. border officials, the region is a magnet for illegal activity -- 162,000 arrests have been made, and 49,000 pounds of marijuana and 699 pounds of cocaine intercepted since November 2007. Drug cartels waging war on the streets of Tijuana also add an element of fear and apprehension. Here the border is tangible.

After 3,200 kilometres, the line tumbles into the Pacific Ocean, and a steel fence divides the United States from Mexico.

During the 1980s, the estuary was in danger of being overrun. Social trails scarred the land. Migrants seeking entry into the United States used the estuary as a crossing point, prompting local politicos to take action.

Also known as Operation Gatekeeper, the 60-million-dollar construction project comprises the western portion of the San Diego Border Infrastructure System. A federally funded programme put in place by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, it dates back to 1996.

In the coming weeks, two fences will flank the existing one, leaving a gap wide enough to provide access to patrol vehicles, along the westernmost 5.6 kilometres of the U.S.-Mexico border. It will enable agents to monitor a border that marches across the edge of Tijuana's city limits, stretching into the arroyos and mesas beyond.

The plan calls for infilling Smugglers Gulch, a steep canyon through which contraband and people pass. It requires the movement of 2 million cubic yards of earth and calls for building a culvert to divert rainfall that flows down denuded hillsides during storms.

According to local legend, Smugglers Gulch earned its reputation during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s, when Tijuana became a destination for U.S. servicemen and thrill seekers. In Mexico, it is known as Canon de Matador, or Slaughter House Canyon, supposedly because goats were slaughtered in the area.

The tops of mesas will be graded down and sections of canyons filled to accommodate an extensive defensive infrastructure that in all likelihood will add to the menace that pervades the border.

According to environmentalists, 100 acres of existing habitat will be compromised within the estuary, placing additional stress on the remaining habitat. "The long-term consequences are unknown," said David Massey, director of education at the San Diego Natural History, when speaking of the triple border fence.

The initial plan met with fierce opposition from environmental groups, who cite concerns that fill from Smugglers Gulch would ultimately choke the wetlands with sedimentation. This would violate federal laws that set aside the estuary as a wildlife refuge and water quality standards. The coastal commission agreed that the project would cause environmental harm and blocked construction.

In September 2005, Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, trumped all legal challengers by citing the National ID Act, giving him the authority to waive any regulation that impeded construction of the fence in the name of national security.

A local federal district court judge then dismissed all cases that impeded the construction of the fence on the grounds that the intent of Congress was clear in terms of completing its construction.

Construction will move along as the DHS attempts to meet its stated goal of building 225 miles of pedestrian fencing and 362 kilometres of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border -- plans likely to meet with additional legal challenges in the months and years to come as advocates on both sides of the fence continue to debate border policy over a landscape where cowboys and coyotes fear to go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Concertina wire bolsters segment of border fence

San Deigo Union-Tribune
November 19, 2008

The Border Patrol is claiming success along a formerly chaotic five-mile stretch of the border between the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry, where fencing was raised and reinforced with razor-studded concertina wire.

Yesterday, agents in San Diego celebrated the completion of the wire project, begun in December and mostly finished about two months ago. The Border Patrol said both illegal-crossing arrests and assaults against agents in the area are down by more than 50 percent.

However, a growing number of apprehensions and assaults are occurring west of the San Ysidro port of entry, and overall arrests in San Diego County continue to rise. And while smugglers are having a harder time leading people over the fence using flexible ladders as they once did, inventive ones are now using battery-powered saws to cut through it.

Still, “if you look at incremental gains of operational control, this is one piece,” said Michael Corley, agent in charge of the Border Patrol's Imperial Beach station, which oversees the area.
The section of fence that was reinforced abuts Colonia Libertad, a Tijuana neighborhood that has long been a launching point for clandestine border crossings. In recent years, as the Border Patrol tried to gain control, smugglers grew more violent, often hurling rocks – at times covered in gasoline-soaked rags – at agents.

The Border Patrol responded with pepper spray, tear gas and occasionally bullets. A man who agents said was linked to smuggling was fatally shot in December 2005.

In February, agents discovered a thick wire strung between the primary and secondary border fences. When pulled taut, it stretched across a patrol road at about neck level, a decapitation hazard for agents on all-terrain vehicles.

Mexican officials confirmed an incident last November in which 11 Tijuana residents received medical aid after being hit by tear gas. In December, the Border Patrol began straightening the secondary fence with help from the National Guard, elevating it by about 3 feet. At the same time, contractors began installing the concertina wire.

The wire, which agents say is not used elsewhere on the border, has been met with criticism. Yesterday, the Mexican consulate in San Diego released a statement calling it a detriment to international relations.

Razor wire “is not a signal that reflects the good relationship between our countries,” the statement reads.

The statement also raised the potential for injury to immigrants. Corley said two laceration injuries have been reported, and the number of jumping-related injuries to immigrants has dropped.

There is no way to know how many people have been cut because it's likely they would return south for treatment, said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated group that assists immigrants.

“It is completely unnecessary and barbaric,” Rios said of the wire. “Part of the reason is trying to dissuade people from coming across by creating a show of force.”

Some people have tried to throw blankets over the wire, Corley said, but overall it has discouraged crossings. In the 11 months before the first of the wire was installed in December, 7,989 apprehensions and 184 assaults against agents were reported for the area the station oversees. In the 11 months following, 3,746 apprehensions and 90 assaults were reported, respective drops of 53 percent and 51 percent.

Despite these declines, there has been a recent increase in smuggling traffic and assaults to the west. While in the past apprehensions were evenly split on either side of San Ysidro port of entry, recently the west side has seen more than 70 percent of them, Corley said.

And while smuggling from Colonia Libertad has lessened, smugglers are still working. A common method now is to gouge a hole in the steel mesh fence and then saw out an opening. That takes three or four minutes, Corley said, while “with the ladders, they would be over in 15 seconds.”

He said agents still encounter some violence and occasionally use nonlethal weapons, such as pepper-spray launchers. There are no plans to install more concertina wire.

San Diego County has experienced its third straight year of increases in border crossing arrests, with most traffic still coming through East County, according to agents. In fiscal year 2008, which ended Sept. 30, there were 162,390 apprehensions in the agency's San Diego sector, compared with 126,904 in fiscal year 2005.

Apprehensions have been down along most other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Border wall moves ahead as DHS completes contracting

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire / AXcess News
November 18, 2008

(AXcess News) Washington - The government has awarded construction contracts for all but five miles of the border wall, leaving little doubt the controversial barrier will be completed, despite missing its initial deadline.

As costs and legal delays mounted in late September, the chances that the Department of Homeland Security would finish the wall by the end of the year - its congressionally mandated deadline - grew slim. Asked if the department would revise the deadline, officials in Washington pointed to an October statement by Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"It is a little hard to project because, as you pointed out, the biggest uncertainty is the court proceedings. They have been slower than, frankly, I would have projected," Chertoff said at a news conference. "I am going to give you a projection, but it is not a guarantee. I believe by the time we leave the office and hopefully by the time we are at the end of the year, we will have 90 to 95 percent either completed or at least under construction, meaning we will have broken ground."

As of Nov. 5, contractors working for the department had built more than 217 miles of pedestrian fencing and 160 miles of vehicle barriers. Contracts for a further 141 miles of vehicle barriers and 141 miles of pedestrian fencing had also been drawn up. Five miles of pedestrian fencing remained to be contracted.

In all, the department plans to build 665 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers. About 40 of the 109 miles planned for Texas will stretch through the Rio Grande Valley, long a trouble spot for the department.

The department faced few hurdles building the wall on federal property along the border in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Texas, where much border property is privately owned, proved thornier.

Lawsuits from valley residents slowed construction. The department, which has won all cases that have gone to court, couldn't say how many are pending.

More recently, environmental worries prompted the department to delay 14 miles of movable fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos.

"The problem is that we're building there on the river in the flood plain," said Angela de Rocha, a Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman. "We got conflicting information from the engineering and hydrology studies."

The Army Corps of Engineers, federal contractors and the International Boundary and Water Commission are all studying whether the fencing could change water flow, which could require Mexican approval. The department isn't sure when it will begin construction.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, who doubts the fencing will stem the flood of drugs and immigrants that regularly pass through the county, said he's "elated" about the delay.

"We feel the wall was a waste of federal monies," Vera said. "So this delay, as far as we're concerned, is a blessing."

Locals want to secure the border, he said, but feel that increasing the number of border patrol agents or boosting surveillance would produce better results.

Isolated settlements across the river from Rio Grande City, Roma and Los Ebanos have made all three cities "some of our heavier drug trafficking corridors," said Dan Doty, one of the valley's supervisory Border Patrol agents.

During the first nine months of 2008, the Drug Enforcement Agency seized 1,405 kilograms of cocaine and 74,170 kilograms of marijuana in the McAllen area. The agency's figures include packaging and don't take into account drugs intercepted by local, state or other federal agencies.

As of last week, Border Patrol agents had caught 67,741 people attempting to cross into the valley illegally, Doty said.

The total cost of the border wall, which includes environmental studies and research designed to determine the most effective barriers, will reach about $1.6 billion, according to figures from Customs and Border Patrol.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Border fence land suits continue despite construction delays

The Monitor
November 16, 2008

Government efforts to seize private land for stretches of border fencing will continue even though construction has been put on hold in parts of the Rio Grande Valley.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed earlier this month that it has halted efforts to build 14 miles of "movable fencing" in Los Ebanos, Rio Grande City and Roma, pending review by the next presidential administration.

But Justice Department lawyers said Friday they will continue to pursue 240 lawsuits filed against Valley landowners in anticipation for the project's revival in those areas.

"Construction postponement does not affect the outstanding condemnation suits," department spokesman Andrew Ames said via e-mail.

The Department of Homeland Security cited trouble securing private lands in South Texas as one of many reasons that the border barrier would not be completed by its Congressionally mandated Dec. 31 deadline.

Concerns that the movable fence planned in Starr and western Hidalgo counties could pose a flood risk to communities there were blamed for the most recent delay.

Currently, 80 Valley holdouts still have eminent domain lawsuits pending in court. The sticking point for many is fair compensation for their land.

Oscar Ceballos, of Brownsville, believes federal government appraisers undervalued the Cameron County property on which he lives and runs his trucking business.

The Justice Department offered him $1,600 for 0.26 acres of his land. But he and several other affected landowners have asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to let a jury of local residents decide the fair price.

While Hanen has repeatedly indicated that the government is entitled to take the property it is asking for, he has appeared willing to hear the landowners out on the offered prices.

"We believe a jury can take into consideration all of the unique circumstances affecting our client's property - its historical use and its future use," said Ceballos' attorney, Celestino Gallegos of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. "The city is moving out his way and he both lives and works on the property."

Justice Department attorneys, meanwhile, have suggested their own alternative - a three-member panel of court-appointed land experts that will review each case and settle on a fair price. The same panel could be used to review all of the condemnation lawsuits.

"The government believes that trial before a commission will lead to uniformity and fairness for all landowners," Ames said.

Governments typically opt for such panels in hopes of avoiding the risk that juries will inflate the actual value of the land, said Marc K. Whyte, a San Antonio-based eminent domain attorney who is not involved in the ongoing border fence suits. Valley juries are also notorious across the state for awarding large monetary judgments to individuals over large corporations and government entities, he said.

"This is just an effort to try and control the money the (landowners) are going to win before a jury," he said.

Hanen is expected to make a final decision on how these cases will be reviewed in the coming weeks.

In all, plans call for 70 miles of segmented fencing in the Rio Grande Valley. But so far, construction has only begun in Cameron County. Contractors have been working on several segments of an enhanced levee that doubles as a border barrier in Hidalgo County since the summer.

Border fence construction in Los Ebanos and Starr County could resume again as soon as next year, government officials said.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A brief in opposition to the Border Wall

Newspaper Tree
November 14, 2008

El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez was invited to testify last week before the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC) of the Texas House of Representatives in relation to the federal lawsuit the County and the City of El Paso filed this summer challenging Congress’ delegation of authority that allowed Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to waive more than 30 federal, state, and local laws, in order to accelerate the construction of the border wall. You can view the testimony, with attachments, via the link below this article.
Rodriguez's argument was:

-- The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol dropped 60 percent in relation to the previous year.

-- That the billions of dollars that the federal government will spend building the border wall would be better invested in providing more resources to the federal agents that patrol the border.

-- That the border wall will negatively impact the water supply to many farmers in the Lower Valley and potentially affect the ability of the El Paso County Improvement District #1 to supply water to 50 percent of El Paso residents, as well as hinder bi-national efforts to re-introduce endangered species.

-- Harm conservation efforts that are underway to protect the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, in El Paso’s lower valley, and affect the cultural history of the region, as the border wall cuts through sacred ceremonial land used for centuries by the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe (Tigua).


José R. Rodríguez El Paso County Attorney Testimony to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus On the Border Wall November 13, 2008

I am El Paso County Attorney José R. Rodríguez. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the Mexican American Legislative Caucus regarding the challenges and consequences El Paso County faces as a result of the construction of the Border Wall. The Texas/Mexico border and particularly my jurisdiction in El Paso, Texas is a unique bi-national community. An aerial view of our border community captures the seamless span of our metropolitan area that comprises well over 2 million people within the cities of El Paso and Juarez. El Paso and Juarez share more than just a physical barrier; they share a common identity and culture, and even history, that forms a unique demographic in our region. As such, El Paso’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistically distinct characteristics require a deeper understanding by lawmakers on the needs of this region. A multi-billion dollar Border Wall will serve no purpose other than to avoid the real issue that lawmakers must address- comprehension immigration reform. In fact, if the purpose of the Border Wall is to stop illegal immigration, data proves otherwise, instead showing that illegal immigrant apprehensions have decreased significantly in recent years. For El Paso County, a Border Wall represents not only a waste of time, money, and resources, but also a disruption of crucial waterways, desert ecosystems, sacred Native American land, and long-standing relations between the El Paso and Juarez communities.

El Paso’s Response

In El Paso there is wide spread opposition to the Border Wall. Recognizing that the relationship with its sister city transcends boundaries, El Paso has passed resolutions and filed lawsuits opposing the Border Wall. In 2006, El Paso County Commissioners approved a resolution recognizing the contributions immigrants have made to our communities and condemning efforts by the federal government to erect ineffective physical barriers such as a Border Wall to address illegal immigration. (See Attachment A) In my capacity as El Paso County Attorney, I joined other elected officials in signing a resolution advocating for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. (See Attachment B) El Paso County Commissioners renewed their stance against ineffective policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration by approving a resolution in May 2008 again recognizing immigrants’ contributions to the United States and calling for federal authorities to stop construction of the Border Wall. (See Attachment C) In Summer 2008, El Paso County joined the Texas Border Coalition’s lawsuit against the Wall and, along with the City of El Paso, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, Hudspeth County Conservation and Reclamation District No. 1, Frontera Audubon Society, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, and Friends of Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge filed a separate lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional delegation of authority that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive more than 30 federal laws, as well as state and local laws, in order to accelerate construction of the Border Wall. Waiving these laws poses severe threats to El Paso County’s environment, water resources, Native American religious customs, economic development, and its ability to enforce state and local laws affecting our community. Although the El Paso federal court dismissed the lawsuit, the case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The unprecedented waiver authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security raises several constitutional issues including whether waiver of state and local laws violates Texas’ sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Questionable Need for a Border Wall

Recent Department of Homeland Security statements claiming the Border Wall is needed in El Paso to obtain operation control of the border are refuted by the government’s success in keeping immigrants out. In 1993, Operation Hold the Line was implemented throughout the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The initiative placed Border Patrol agents in close proximity to one another along a certain area of the border to prevent illegal immigration. In 1992, one year before Operation Hold the Line began, the number of “deportable aliens located by the Border Patrol” was approximately 248,642. In 1994, one year after Operation Hold the Line was implemented, there was an immediate drop in apprehensions to 79,688, a 68 % decrease. Although subsequent years show some fluctuation in the number of arrests, recent years’ data indicate an overwhelmingly decrease in arrests. (See Attachment D) A recent article in the El Paso Times quotes Border Patrol officials as acknowledging that given current resources and zero tolerance policy against illegal immigrants, they “do not anticipate a surge of attempted illegal entries in the coming year”. (See Attachment E) This data clearly indicates that current resources and policies are effective in deterring illegal immigration, thus raising serious questions concerning the federal government’s insistence that a border wall is necessary to stop illegal immigration.

Disruption, Destruction, and Polarization within El Paso County

Impact to El Paso’s Water Supply

Located in El Paso’s lower valley, Water Improvement District #1 (WID) provides water for 69,010 acres of water right lands. According to the WID website, WID contains 156 square miles of water that delivers critical irrigation water to El Paso County residents. As a result of the Border Wall, the WID has been inundated with concerns from area farmers who are worried that the Border Wall would block access to irrigation water provided by the Riverside Canal and prevent them from sustaining their farmlands. Along the canal, the presence of border patrol vehicles is evident by the disintegration of the canal banks. Coupled with the placement of the Border Wall alongside the Riverside Canal, the ability of WID to maintain and control the flow of water that funnels through its canals is in jeopardy. The placement of the Border Wall along an area parallel to the Riverside Canal, along the south bank, poses several threats to El Paso’s water supply including the ability of WID maintenance workers to maintain control gates that direct the flow of water into a canal. Failure to properly maintain the canals could potentially prevent water from reaching the Jonathon Rogers Treatment Plant for processing and distribution to about 50% of El Paso County residents. To date nothing has been memorialized in writing between the WID and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to address WID’s concerns. In recent weeks, discussions have taken place between the two entities with CBP claiming to reduce the impact that the Border Wall will have by proposing to place the Border Wall up on the river’s levee. WID officials continue to warn that this proposal will affect their ability to maintain the canal and will require the WID to heavily invest in herbicides and special equipment.

Environmental Impact

The Border Wall’s anticipated adverse impacts on El Paso County’s desert ecosystem and economic development include serious long term effects to border wildlife and plants, a break in bi-national conservation efforts, and the loss of an emerging eco-tourism market. Although the extent of the long term effects of a Border Wall in the El Paso region is not immediately ascertainable, it is probable that they are irreversible and, over time, can lead to significant loss and even permanent destruction in the ecosystem of the border region. El Paso is a refuge for endangered species including the Mexican gray wolf. Studies indicate that the protection of wolf habitats require open corridors in the border region. Efforts by the United States and Mexico to provide safe habitats and reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf are in direct contrast to the construction of a border wall, which will hinder the free movement of the animal on both sides of the border. Mexico has been vocal in its opposition to the construction of the border wall in large measure because past efforts between the United States and Mexico were underway to protect vital border ecosystems. Decisions made by the United States to place the wall on sensitive environmental lands hinder efforts between the United States and Mexico to collaborate and work on innovative and important environmental issues that are unique to the border region. Rio Bosque Wetlands Park Construction and inevitable maintenance of the Border Wall will harm conservation efforts that are underway to protect the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. At Rio Bosque, the goal is to re-establish, over time, approximate examples of native plant and animal communities historically found in the river valley. The proposed wall would compromise their ability to achieve this goal which has already received substantial funding from the state and federal government. In a letter to the El Paso Sector Tactical Infrastructure Environmental Assessment (EA), John Sproul, Program Coordinator for Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, raises serious concerns regarding the placement of the wall. Sproul notes the various cumulative effects on Rio Bosque in his comments to the draft EA report: impacts to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; visual impacts; and, access issues. (See Attachment F) Sproul’s comments regarding efforts by DHS to integrate those proposals were abandoned once the Secretary issued his waiver of all laws that would hinder the Wall from being built. Rio Bosque Wetlands Parks has the potential for becoming a haven for environmental enthusiasts, similar to the Sabal Palm Audubon Center in the Rio Grande Valley. However, the Rio Bosque is likely to fall victim to a similar fate that the Sabal Palm Audubon Center is facing as a result of the Border Wall. Thus, the goal of creating the Rio Bosque into a wetlands sanctuary and possible thriving tourist destination is now in jeopardy.

Cultural Impact to the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe

The Border Wall will cut through sacred ceremonial land to the Ysleta Pueblo del Sur Tribe (Tigua). This area covers approximately 6-7 miles from the Ysleta Port of Entry to Socorro, Texas. Discussions between the Tigua’s and the CBP were described by Tribal War Captain, Rick Quesada, as minimal at best and plans by Customs and Border Protection to disrupt the ceremonial area are still underway despite protests from the Tiguas.

Polarization between the El Paso and Juarez Communities To many of us, the Border Wall symbolizes a hostile barrier between two communities that have traditionally been closely intertwined. Its construction will impact Mexico’s relationship with the United States on many levels including diplomatic relations and local cooperation. El Paso and Juarez have historically worked close together on important policy issues that affect the community; for example, extending each other assistance during the heavy floods that blanketed the El Paso/Juarez region in 2006. The two communities routinely work jointly on local drug policy, pollution control, and bi-national health initiatives. Instead of bi-national cooperation, the border wall will create distrust and endanger the existing collaborative relationship between the two communities.

Finally, the Border Wall could potentially cause social, cultural, and familial ties in both communities to falter. Both U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens cross the border through the Ports of Entry to shop, visit family, attend schools and recreational events, and obtain medical care. The Border Wall would symbolize a hostile barrier and could potentially affect the cross border services and tourism that both populations take advantage of, causing both communities to suffer economic consequences.


As El Paso County Attorney I have provided testimony to the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade discussing border security and issues related to local enforcement of immigration law. The current focus on border security again brings to the forefront the need for lawmakers to engage in meaningful discussions regarding comprehensive immigration reform. A multi-billion dollar effort to construct the Border Wall simply does not make sense. At a time when America faces a severe financial crises it is simply irresponsible to pour additional money into a wall that will scar our environmental landscape and damage our relationship with communities across the border. Instead of deterring illegal immigration, the Wall will symbolize not only a failed immigration policy, but also a country barricading itself from the rest of the world. Thank you.

Chertoff hopes his 'gains' will stick

Arizona Daily Star
November 15, 2008

Secretary Michael Chertoff of the Department of Homeland Security has plenty of ideas about how to move forward with border security efforts, but said Friday that he won't be the man to lead that effort.
"My plan is to go on Jan. 20," Chertoff said at a press conference at the University of Arizona. "I've had four good years here."
That means, as expected, there will be a new secretary of Homeland Security in the Barack Obama administration.
Chertoff said he'll be happy to work with his successor and issued an early warning to whoever is selected in the coming weeks:
"If there is a change in approach, if there is a lack of a commitment to continue what we are doing on border security, we could see ourselves surrendering many of the gains we made," said Chertoff, who spoke to the press before delivering a lecture to law students at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law.
But to about 75 protesters outside the building Friday morning, what Chertoff calls "gains" were characterized as major setbacks.
Holding signs that read "Walls don't work," "No human being is illegal," "Get the Chert-off" and "Chertoff respect the law, no Real ID," the mixture of UA students and Tucson non-students said they wanted to show their displeasure with the way Chertoff has handled border security issues. They booed him loudly as he exited his vehicle.
Chertoff's critics have been highly critical of his use of a waiver created in the 2005 Real ID Act that allows the Homeland Security secretary to bypass compliance with federal regulations for border fences and roads. Chertoff used the waiver on four occasions during his tenure, three of which were to move forward with fencing projects in Arizona.
"There are no checks and balances with DHS," said Charles Vernon, a UA law student who protested Friday. The use of the waivers, he said, "is blatantly unconstitutional."
Border fences were among the issues the outgoing secretary addressed during his press conference. Here are some excerpts:
On the progress toward constructing a total of 670 miles of pedestrian fences and vehicle barriers on the Southwest border:
As of Friday, about 378 miles have been completed, leaving 292 miles left to meet the goal that was originally supposed to be finished by the end of 2008. He said he expects there to be more than 600 miles completed or under construction by the time he leaves office.
He said 670 miles of fencing should be sufficient to secure the border. Nobody is talking about wanting to build more than 1,000 miles of fencing, he said.
"I'm not interested in building fence just to build fence. I'm only interested in building fence where fence actually adds tactical value."
On future plans for the virtual fences — communication towers with electronic surveillance and detection systems — along the border:
Chertoff said that the newest version of the virtual fence "works" at the prototype site and that money has been budgeted to bring it to the Tucson Sector next year. Work on virtual fences in Arizona was abruptly put on hold in August after Homeland Security failed to turn in plans in time to the Department of the Interior for land access. The nine towers put up in the $20 million "Project 28" test virtual fence are still up in the border area flanking Sasabe and being used, Chertoff said. That Boeing Co.-led project was delayed because of glitches.
He plans to recommend that his successor continue using the combination of physical fences and virtual fences.
"This has been proven to work. . . . We spent a lot of time working with the very, very experienced Border Patrol to design a system that would put the right assets in the right location. I think we've teed this up so the next group has a very, very good platform from which to move forward."
On "measurable and significant progress" made during his tenure toward securing the border:
"We've seen a number of metrics which point very strongly in the direction of getting control of the border," he said, pointing to a 17 percent decrease in apprehensions by the Border Patrol and a decrease in "entries" tracked by the agency. He also pointed to a Pew Hispanic Center study that estimated the number of illegal immigrants in the United States declined to 11.9 million in 2008 from 12.4 million in 2007. He believes that the decrease is an effect of enforcement, not the economy.
On the escalating drug-related violence south of the border in Mexico:
There have been no signs of sustained cross-border violence and no intelligence reports that suggest a spillover is imminent, he said. Nonetheless, Chertoff requested that Homeland Security agencies and local law enforcement agencies develop contingency plans. Actions to respond to any cartel violence that spilled across the border would include the deployment of special response teams, planes and helicopters and armored vehicles, he said.
On the need for an expanded guest worker program as part of comprehensive immigration reform:
"I'm hopeful that as Congress sees that we are capable and determined to live up to our commitment on the security side that Congress will be willing to entertain something on the temporary work side that in the end I think would be positive for the workers, positive for business and also, frankly, be a help to the Border Patrol."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Artists on both sides of fence turn monthly poetry readings into cultural celebrations

San Diego Union-Tribune
November 13, 2008

Poets Brandon Cesmat, Chris Vannoy, Francisco Bustos and Delfino Rodriguez Rodriguez stood in the concrete circle just yards from the ocean, waiting their turns to read poetry to each other as music swelled from a party to the south.

For a moment, the rusting steel mesh fence that slashes through the middle – dividing the United States and Mexico – looked like a failing curtain.

“If you stand close enough, it seems to disappear,” said Cesmat, who teaches at California State University San Marcos.

The monument circle at Border Field State Park has long been a place where families and friends come to visit through the aging fence where only air and sunlight move freely. It has been the scene of protests and candlelight vigils, of weddings and yoga classes. Once a month, friends and artists spend a Saturday at the site to celebrate the bonds between nations, people and cultures.
Dan Watman has been organizing the events for the past four years, relying on a Web site and e-mail to get the word out.

“It's a collaboration with artists on both sides of the border, with Grupo Ecologista de Tijuana, Proyecto Fronterizo and many, many artists,” Watman said. “We've had music and dancing, yoga and meditation, and always the poetry readings.”

The area near the fence is marked with the celebrations of life and remembrances of death. It is covered with tattered blue, yellow and white crosses cut from plastic and hung in remembrance of those who have died trying to cross illegally.

Much of the land in the shadow of the fence is barren, plants destroyed by human and vehicle traffic. But the park also shows the signs of repeated plantings of agave, cactus and festive flowers.

People have spread out yoga mats and donned salsa shoes for classes that were divided by the fence. And they've shared unusual culture – like the Mixtec meetup held in August.

“We had three languages – English, Spanish and Mixteca – and most people could speak two of them, so we were all translating for each other and learning about the Mixteca culture,” Watman said.

On Saturday, about 50 people came to the fence on both sides of the border to read poetry and to expand the friendship garden that sneaks under and through the fence. Early in the day, they planted manzanita, California poppies and other native plants.

Starting at noon, poets on both sides of the fence took turns reading poems about love and loss, hunger and seeking, about separation and home.

While they read, the lines blurred. Two poets who recited from the Tijuana side are U.S. citizens – one a professor at Southwestern College, the other calling himself “The Tijuana Gringo” – a 10-year resident of Tijuana. Many have lived and worked on both sides.

“I've lived on both sides of the border, depending on finances and where I was in my life,” Watman said. “We have friends on both sides, we share art and culture that has blurred the lines.”

Cesmat remembers that the rusting fence wasn't always an obstacle in the friendship circle.
“You can see that the circle was created in a single pour of concrete, that the fence came later,” he said. “I used to bring my son here to meet these 'foreign' people.”

About 25 yards north of the fence, portable sections of chain-link mark where the Department of Homeland Security plans to build a 15-foot-high concrete wall that will make getting to the friendship circle far more difficult. Grading for construction already has begun.

“This might be the last time we can see each other and share our poems across the border,” said Chris Vannoy, of the San Diego-based Drunken Poets Society. “That will be sad, that we must fight so hard to be connected to our neighbors.”

At sunset, when the last poem was read, people on both sides of the border watered the newly planted areas together.

“The idea is to get to know each other across the border in a positive environment,” said Watman, a language instructor at Mesa College. “With Tijuana so close to San Diego, we have the opportunity to know our neighbors in Mexico that few people have.”

Lawmakers lobbied on border fence

El Paso Times
November 14, 2008

EL PASO - The Texas Legislature should file legal briefs backing the lawsuits that several El Paso governmental and environmental entities filed in federal court declaring the border fence unconstitutional, County Attorney José Rodríguez told members of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus on Thursday.

Rodríguez spent the morning in Austin talking to the caucus about the negative consequences the fence - which is now being built along the U.S.-Mexico border - would have locally.

"I asked them to pass a resolution opposing further erection of the fence ... to show support for communities like El Paso," he said. "We think that the state of Texas has been entirely too quiet. As a state we should be on the forefront of this issue."

Early last summer, the city and county of El Paso joined the Texas Border Coalition's lawsuit against the fence.

Since then, both entities joined other environmental groups in a separate lawsuit challenging the authority of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's to access the land near the Rio Grande to build the fence. They claimed the department inappropriately ignored more than 30 laws that would have prevented the construction now under way.

The second lawsuit was dismissed in a federal court in El Paso, and the case is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I would ask that when El Paso files its appeal in federal court that the Legislature also obtain a brief in our support," Rodríguez said.

Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito and the chairman of the caucus, said he was impressed by Rodríguez's testimony.

"He provided great impact and shed some light on things the caucus was not fully aware of," he said. "This is valuable testimony that we'll put into the record and hopefully use to make things happen."

Lucio said he wanted to follow some of the recommendations that Rodríguez made on Thursday.
"There are advocacy groups asking that the Legislature take a more active role on this issue," Lucio said. "I want to pass a resolution, yes, but I also want to lobby the leadership in Texas to create work groups to do research and create suggestions for alternatives for this problem."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Border leaders want state to oppose fence

Associated Press / Houston Chronicle
November 13, 2008

AUSTIN — Leaders from Texas-Mexico border communities asked state legislators Thursday to help them take a stand against a federal border fence that they say harms business, culture and wildlife habitat.

Although the state doesn't have jurisdiction over the border fence, Texas lawmakers should create a committee that would work to improve talks among local officials, landowners and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada testified at the Capitol. He joined other members of the Texas Border Coalition in urging that the Texas Legislature pass a state resolution opposing the fence.

"It does affect the state of Texas," Ahumada told a hearing organized by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. "My message to Uncle Sam ... is tear down this wall."

He said meetings between local and federal officials have been one-sided, with national politicians wanting "to appease a certain group at our expense."

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner said the government has worked with many border property owners and local communities. She said the department relies on Border Patrol agents to provide advice on where fencing would be most useful.

In Hidalgo County, local officials won an agreement with the federal government to combine a fence with much-needed levee improvements along the river.

"Congress has mandated that we build a fence along the southern border," Keehner said, when contacted in Washington after the hearing. "We are on our way to fulfilling that mandate."

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, a Brownsville Democrat, said the Mexican American caucus would use the information it gathers when the state Legislature convenes in January and would share it with members of Congress.

"I grew up embracing the border culture," Lucio said. He said he finds it "very disheartening" that authorities from other parts of the country are telling border residents how to live. "I have never in my lifetime felt like questioning the government more than at this particular time."

Some legislators and witnesses said they are hopeful the change in presidential administrations will improve relations between border residents and the federal government. President-elect Barack Obama voted for the fence as a U.S. senator from Illinois.

State Rep. Tracy King, an Eagle Pass Democrat, sent a letter to Thursday's meeting stating that most residents of his area oppose the fence.

"We like to say that we are two communities connected by a river, not divided by one," he wrote of Eagle Pass and its sister city, Piedras Negras, Mexico.

Texas Border Coalition members said they prefer increased border enforcement efforts and measures such as removal of carrizo cane and salt cedar along the Rio Grande to eliminate hiding places for illegal crossers.

"The border wall has been built on a false premise that one size fits all," Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said.

People crossing the border illegally will find ways to get over, under and through a fence, the border leaders said, adding that the fence is a waste of money. They again called for immigration solutions that allow documented immigrants to come into the country to help satisfy labor needs.

Of the 670 miles of fencing the Department of Homeland Security plans to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, the staunchest opposition has arisen in Texas. In the Rio Grande Valley, rich agricultural land runs to the banks of the Rio Grande.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry has said he opposes a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, although he said some "strategic fencing" in urban areas makes sense.

John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, said the fence isn't cost effective and that his members are worried about fence building well north of the actual border, making U.S. land south of the fence a "no man's land."

"Land values will plummet there, and that's the issue for my guys," he said.

Other witnesses told of environmental harm they said the fence creates; historic sites they said will be affected; and costly legal fights that local, often poor, landowners are being forced to wage.

Fence construction is under way in the Big Bend region and threatens the area for those who enjoy living there and for visitors, said Adrienne Evans of Terlingua, co-founder of No Wall-Big Bend Coalition.

The fence essentially moves the U.S.-Mexico border farther north and won't stop people from crossing into the United States unless the fence is militarized, she said.

"This is a turning point in our state's history," Evans said. "Where does this insanity end, exactly? Who will stop it?"

Longer, taller fencing gives illegal migrants a higher hurdle

Arizona Republic
November 13, 2008

NACO, Sonora - Mario Garcia Salcido and a friend left home in Culiacán for this dusty speck of a border town last week, headed for jobs in an Idaho milk-processing plant.

They met up with the tallest obstacle the U.S. government has ever erected along the Mexican border: an 18-foot, mesh-metal fence west of here, with poles sunk deeply into concrete.

Garcia hoisted his friend, who wouldn't identify himself, up the barrier, and in 20 minutes, they clambered into the United States illegally. An hour later, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested them for the third time in a month.

Garcia and his friend say the tall fence won't deter future illegal immigrants.
"Everybody can climb it. They cross by every manner," Garcia's 42-year-old friend said as he waited in Naco's Migrant Resource Center after being returned to Mexico.

The United States is spending $700 million to build 670 miles of new fencing along the border, but lured by U.S. jobs with higher wages, immigrants are adapting.

The tallest portions of the fencing are 15 to 18 feet high, aimed at stopping both pedestrians and vehicles. The shortest barriers are 3 to 4 feet high and designed to stop vehicles in remote areas.
The large fences stretch in broken but growing segments across the 1,950-mile border. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it has put up 114 miles of truck barricades and 118 miles of new 15- and 18-foot fences. That's about half of the total planned.

The fences are high enough to deter some would-be illegal immigrants. But the Border Patrol and immigrant-aid centers report that people are devising ways to scale the fences, be it by two-by-four ladders, tree limbs or rope - and some are injuring themselves in the process.
The Border Patrol says the fence is doing its intended job.

"The border fence is a speed bump in the desert," spokesman Mike Scioli said. "It slows them down long enough for us to respond."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks of the fence as just one facet of a more comprehensive strategy to secure the border. The fence is intended to complement, not replace, extra agents, surveillance sensors, inland checkpoints and technology.

Border Patrol Agent William Schaeck was amazed at the feeble barriers when he came to Naco three years ago. "All of this was barbed wire," he said, motioning to a stretch of 18-foot fence that went up in the past year.

The fence stands in the windswept scrub like a line of crooked teeth, as far as the eye can see.
East from the Naco port of entry, there are six types of fence in the first 2 miles. Types range from 10 feet to 18 feet, from corrugated-steel wall to a picket of metal poles to reinforced-wire mesh. A freshly graded dirt road runs alongside, and in some places, a string of floodlights sit atop tall aluminum poles.

"It has helped," Schaeck said.

Borderwide, arrests by agents dropped 18 percent this year, although a slowing U.S. economy is a major factor.

For the past six months, crews have been building a 15-foot mesh fence about 15 yards behind the main 12-foot corrugated-steel wall west of the crossing.

Security purists want such a double barrier along the length of the border.

When Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, it authorized 670 miles of double fence.
Last year, the act was amended to give Chertoff discretion to build 670 miles of any barrier he saw fit. Last month, Chertoff conceded that a deadline to finish that work by January will not be met and that 90 to 95 percent would be under contract.Near Douglas, 25 miles east of Naco, there is no double fence and very little of the 18-foot barrier. A few miles east, the fence turns into 3-foot-high barricades intended to stop drug smugglers' trucks. Walkers can easily slip through and reach a highway 5 miles north.

"Just look at how open this is," said Ray Borane, former Douglas mayor and now Gov. Janet Napolitano's border adviser.

Borane does not think even a continuous 18-foot barrier will stop immigrants. There's just too much open territory to patrol, he says.

Garcia and his friend say they scaled the fence by hand because they couldn't afford the $2,500 smugglers' fee. The desert around Naco is littered with makeshift ladders, shelter volunteer Cecile Lumer said, showing a picture of a ladder made of weathered two-by-fours. It lies in the dirt 20 feet from the new fence, waiting to be reused.

Across the border, in the Border Patrol office, Schaeck holds up a ladder fashioned from barbed wire twisted around rungs made of wooden dowels. He has seen others made from thick tree branches, through which holes were bored and rope strung. He has seen crude grappling hooks, ropes with knots and ladders with barbed-wire rungs.

Lumer and Mexican border agents say they have seen more people trying their luck on the fence and more injuries in recent months. The immigrants come into the shelters with broken ankles, swollen knees, dislocated fingers and bad cuts.

The fence is the last resort for illegal immigrants, especially those who've been arrested by the Border Patrol after paying all their money to coyotes. Some coyotes now charge 1,000 pesos, or about $80, to let immigrants use their ladders.

Garcia and his friend said the journey into the United States was too difficult. They were going home to stay.

Not everybody makes that choice. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego found that nearly half the illegal immigrants whom its researchers surveyed in 2007 and 2008 in Mexican villages and U.S. cities had been arrested during their previous journey. Two-thirds also said the crossing was difficult. But nearly all made it to their U.S. destinations eventually, a consistent finding since 1995.

Asked what the U.S. government could have to do to keep all illegal immigrants at the border, Garcia answered in pantomime: jiggling spasmodically, closing his eyes and sticking his tongue out.

"Electrify it," he said, laughing. "That, or post soldiers every 10 meters."

Texas Border Coalition leaders testify against border wall in Austin today

Rio Grande Guardian
November 13, 2008

AUSTIN, November 19 - Five leading members of the Texas Border Coalition will testify against the federal government’s border wall plan at a hearing hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus at the state Capitol today.

The five are Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who chairs the TBC, Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada, Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez, and Texas Produce Association President and CEO John McClung.

The Guardian has the submitted written testimony of all five in its Border Life section.

Click here to read the testimony submitted by Foster.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Salinas.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Rodríguez.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by McClung.
Click here to read the testimony submitted by Ahumada.

The MALC hearing is being chaired by state Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-San Benito, a member of the non-partisan group. Lucio said the hearing will allow Texas House members to gain an insight on the impact a border wall will have on the economy, environment, and private property rights of Texans living along the border.

“The Texas border with Mexico thrives due to its close relationship with its neighbor to the South; it is imperative that we understand how a border wall would affect Texas’ relationship with Mexico,” Lucio said.

Lucio took members of Congress on a tour of parts of Brownsville last April to show where the border wall might be built. It included parts of the historic Fort Brown complex. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reached an agreement with the University of Brownsville to limit the amount of fencing that will be built.

Opponents of the border wall, including South Texas congressmen, are hoping that the incoming Obama administration will halt construction of the border wall and put more emphasis on cameras, sensors and extra Border Patrol agents as a means of securing the border. Last week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced that DHS had halted plans to build movable border fencing in Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos.

Lucio said the border wall directly impacts South Texas communities. Raising awareness of how federal legislation affects Texan constituents is essential to ensuring that local rights and concerns are not overlooked at the national level, he said, arguing that the federal government needs to take account of local and state viewpoints when implementing policy that affects border communities.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is the chair of MALC. He agreed with Lucio’s analysis. “Every community on the Rio Grande is unique, a border wall may not address the varying concerns along the Texas border,” Gallego said.

The TBC has been a vocal critic of the border wall plan. Just this week, the group slammed U.S. Customs and Border Protection for blocking the input Valley landowners could have made in federally-required talks over the border wall.

The TBC also condemned a CBP decision to continue land acquisition near Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos even after the agency announced it would indefinitely halt construction of movable fencing.

“TBC is dumbfounded by CBP’s continued resistance to consultation with local landowners and the community, and by CBP’s unjustifiable demands for secrecy,” Foster said.

“Equally disturbing, CBP is continuing to pursue legal action to condemn the land of the people in Roma, Rio Grande City and Los Ebanos for a fence that the International Boundary & Water Commission won’t support,” Foster said.

Foster pointed out that TBC and DHS officials agreed in April to participate in a series of fence site tours in the Valley, known as “walk the line,” to help satisfy federal requirements outlined in the Consolidated Fiscal 2008 Appropriations Act.

Under the law, homeland security officials are obliged to consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, states, local governments, Indian tribes, and property owners in communities where the wall is to be built. The point is to minimize the barrier’s impact on Rio Grande Valley communities and residents from an environmental, cultural and economic standpoint, Foster said.

TBC members had hoped the tour would take place before the congressionally imposed fence construction deadline of Dec. 31. But on Nov. 4, Foster said, CBP officials told TBC that attendance would be limited to coalition members only and that individual landowners or their attorneys would not be allowed to “walk the line.”

Rodríguez said he was looking forward to testifying at the MALC hearing about a federal lawsuit El Paso County and the City of El Paso filed this summer challenging Congress’ unconstitutional delegation of authority that allowed Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to waive more than 30 federal, state, and local laws, in order to accelerate the construction of the border wall.

Rodríguez said a border wall will not keep immigrants out of the U.S. What it will do, he said, is bring serious environmental, economic and cultural consequences to the El Paso and Juarez region.

Rodríguez pointed to recent data from DHS which shows that this year, in the El Paso Sector, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by the Border Patrol dropped 60 percent in relation to the previous year. He pointed out that the drop in detentions was achieved before the construction of the border fence even began.

Rodríguez says the data refutes DHS’s contention that the border wall is necessary to maintain operational control of the border.

“A multi-billion dollar effort to construct the Border Wall simply does not make sense. At a time when America faces a severe financial crisis it is simply irresponsible to pour additional money into a wall that will scar our environmental landscape and damage our relationship with communities across the border,” Rodríguez said.

“Instead of deterring illegal immigration, the wall will symbolize not only a failed immigration policy, but also a country barricading itself from the rest of the world.

Rodríguez said he will explain to members of the Texas House of Representatives that the best way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration is to seek approval of comprehensive immigration reform.